When we open the gate of suffering within our own hearts we find that compassion is the transforming principle – compassion is the antidote to suffering. By understanding that all people feel the same suffering that we feel we can realize that, in this way, we are all the same and that in order to heal our shared suffering we must heal our own inner suffering. It is a universal condition that we all want happiness and we all wish to avoid suffering. But even if this wish for happiness is universal and we acknowledge that our suffering is a shared experience, we have not been very skillful in achieving this goal of universal happiness as a society and world. It seems that there is some impediment, some burden we carry which stands in the way of our happiness which, as a species, we have not yet overcome.
It has been pointed out countless times that although we are very technologically advanced, we are very spiritually immature. We have the technological resources to live in harmony and in reasonable material comfort, but we insist on seeing class, divisions and fear and we stress imagined individuality to the cost of harmony. Rather than focusing on our inherent sameness and wrestling with our common human demons together, we put some of our brothers and sisters on a pedestal while leaving others holding the bag of psychic ‘garbage’ that we’d rather not face. In this way we aren’t taking very good care of each other.
It is a sad fact that many if not most of our spiritual teachings stress negating, transcending or otherwise giving up on our precious world. They damn or label some of our brothers and sisters or teach that the whole “illusion” is to be transcended or left behind but this is not enlightened action, this is not holy nor is it compassionate. It is also not wise because it fails to perceive that we are all merely experiencing different angles of the same human suffering and in this way we are all functionally, physically, psychically and, in our common hearts, One.
In Soto Zen there is a simple yet elegant chant which outlines the nature of this predicament and sets our minds towards doing something about it. This chant is a distillation of the path of the bodhisattva, one who vows that “as long as space remains, as long as sentient beings remain, until then may I too remain, to dispel the misery of the world,” (Dalai Lama). This problem that we face seems enormous but with patience, clarity and determination it can be solved. A bodhisattva is one who sees our oneness, our sameness and the nature of our predicament and is not afraid to remain until every last one of our brothers and sisters opens their hearts to see this clearly for themselves.
Creations are numberless, I vow to free them
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to open them
The awakened way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it
Creations are numberless, I vow to free them. Vowing to free creations means vowing to support life as it is, to support existence as it is, and to free the world from our wretched clinging and manipulative wishes to bend creation to satisfy our desires. Not only do we free the world from our selfishness but, miraculously, we free ourselves from this ugliness simultaneously.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them. Everything that stands in the way of our common heart is a delusion and these clouds are inexhaustible. However, by learning to recognize and transform inexhaustible delusions into enlightenment, by recognizing that delusion is enlightenment, we find the stream of inexhaustible enlightenment.
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to open them. Dharma is reality, the way things are right now, and each right now is our chance to open the moment and enter. To truly enter we must enter with not knowing, only the intention to see clearly. It was, after all, all of the things we thought we knew which previously barred the way.
The awakened way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it. The awakened way is not mere philosophy or knowledge – for it to be lived we must make it our very body. Each moment we truly embody the awakened way is a moment of living up to our bodhisattva vow.
We have each been entrusted with our own piece of the human heart and this is where our work is done. Because of our interconnectedness, the inner work that we perform has universal ramifications that we come to see and understand. By knowing one thing, we come to know all things – all things come to know themselves. Real compassion hurts because we come face to face with the enormity of our shared suffering. But by empowering ourselves to transform this suffering the situation is no longer hopeless. By freeing creations, transforming delusions, opening dharma gates and embodying the awakened way for ourselves we take good care of our piece of the human heart and, in the process, help solve the riddle of our human life.